Asimov—A Pillar of Science Fiction: Part 4 (Foundation)

November 21, 2017 | Kevin Luering
Isaac Asimov

Foundation is not only an essential part of the Asimov saga, but also one of the most important pieces of fiction of the 20th Century. The original trilogy’s influence penetrated the barrier of the science fiction community. It has been cited by economists, politicians and psychologists as a significant work to their professional development. The 2008 Nobel Memorial Prize winner of Economic Sciences, Paul Krugman, attributed the books to invigorating his interest in economics. The first three books were printed between 1951 and 1953. An additional four novels, two sequels and two prequels, were added 30 years later.

 

The first book, which is titled merely Foundation, is made up of five parts initially published as individual short stories. Part one of book one introduces us to the fictitious science called “psychohistory.” It collects history, sociology and mathematical statistics to make generalized predictions about the behavior of civilizations. The prolific inventor, Hari Seldon, is someone revered in the Galactic Empire. His prophecy causes panic throughout the government, which is that its fall is imminent. His solution is to salvage the knowledge of humanity into an “Encyclopedia Galactica.” Asimov is putting forth the belief that at the heart of a progressive civilization is the ability for information to be accessed. Within the real world, The Carter Center is just one organization, which considers the subject of access of information to be critical enough to make it a part of its global initiative. However, in the book, the encyclopedia idea turns out to be a ruse to get funding and resources to form a pocket civilization full of scientists on the periphery of The Empire. They work toward the encyclopedia they promised, but their actual purpose is to be a seed. Seldon goes further by predicting other major events that will happen in the galaxy to give The Foundation guidance.

 

Components that form society arouse discussion in each subsequent section of the book. For instance, the story exhibits that not only is information required, but also a populace well-versed in science that can interpret that information for implementation; ergo, access of information does not necessarily lead to a well-educated populace. Surrounding kingdoms in the story attempt to replicate The Foundation technology and fail. Various topics such as trade, energy, and foreign relations are all woven into the story of the birth of a new planetary nation based on scientific principles called Foundation.

 

Foundation and Empire describe the next existential threat as military action from old and new enemies. The Foundation now operates as a sovereign nation. An Empire general and demagogue makes it his mission to vilify and then retake The Foundation. The Foundation does not stand a chance against The Empire’s massive military even after decades of annexation and development of other planets. Subversion becomes the common thread of book two. It is a tool used both for and against the protagonist offering a demonstration of its effectiveness to circumvent military prowess and how countering is possible.

 

A third-party known as “The Mule” enters the fray later in the story. He is an emulation of historical conquerors such as Genghis Khan. One of the most vital characteristics of the Mongol horde that allowed them to take so much land in such a short amount of time was due to whole cities and armies surrendering without a single swing of the sword. Their reputation became a tool for subversion. [1] Similarly, the Mule has an uncanny ability to turn armadas of spaceships to his cause, although how he accomplished this feat is unknown to The Foundation. This form of attack can breach The Foundation, using its power against itself. Here, the idea is displayed that no matter the strength of the military, the superiority of technology, or span of trade, the loyalty of the populace can undercut all of it. 

 

Second Foundation, the third and last of the original trilogy, is a title that is as literal as the prior books’. There is indeed a second Foundation hidden in the galaxy. Its speculative existence was merely a point of plot previously. The first part of the book depicts the showdown between Second Foundation agents and The Mule. His kingdom fades into obscurity due to its prosperity relying on its figurehead—another reference to the Mongol Empire, particularly its hasty decay in less than a century after its establishment. After the death of The Khan of Khans, there were many disputes regarding who should take over. This fighting was the beginning factor to their expedited downfall.

 

The First Foundation focuses on asserting its dominance through advanced technology. The Second Foundation has indirectly reaped the rewards of these advancements while doing their research of the mind. They ascertain the secrets of how the human brain operates to the point of complete manipulation. Their existence relies on its subversive tactics against individuals, e.g., political leaders. Their weapon is elusiveness. They do not need to waste resources on any form of defense because as far as anyone knows, they do not exist. Only The First Foundation has any knowledge of their potential existence. The Second Foundation is the puppet master of the galaxy. A benevolent ruling class that remains unseen. Whether this was objectively good for the galaxy would not be answered until thirty years later when Foundation’s Edge was published.

 

Around two thousand pages reflect on the past, present, and future. A display of events that show where we as humans come from and where we are going. More than anything, it is incredible how many young readers are invigorated with internal discourse due to these books.   

 

Chronological Order

  1. Prelude to Foundation
  2. Forward the Foundation
  3. Foundation
  4. Foundation and Empire
  5. Second Foundation
  6. Foundation's Edge
  7. Foundation and Earth

(3-5 Original Trilogy)


[1] Urgunge Onon (trans.), revised by Sue Bradbury (1993), Chinggis Khan: The Golden History of the Mongols. London: The Folio Society.

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